Will Those Complaining About the New Playoff Format Please Shut Up?
Every time there is a rule change in any sport, the change is followed by an army of people complaining about said rule. We will for sure see this next year with the pitch clock, and the ban of the shift. Even though both rules have been tested in the minors to rousing success, people will still complain. Right now the thing so many in the baseball community are complaining about is the new Wild Card format.
It is unfair to the teams with bye weeks they say. These long layoffs take them out of rhythm. The bats will go cold. And those complaining will point to the fact the Braves got stomped by the Phillies, and the Dodgers by the Padres, as proof of their claim.
The problem is they are wrong. Oh so very wrong. Now I know what you are saying. How are they wrong? It makes sense to me that a nearly-week layoff would hurt these teams. The Wild Card teams get to stay hot while the top teams lose all their momentum. And the fact the Braves and Dodgers got beat so badly proves it. But here is the thing, that is not how it happened.
Three of the 4 teams with byes won their first game. Two of the four won game 2. None of them left their ballpark any worse than 1-1. Wouldn’t you think if they were coming in cold, that that would show itself in the first couple of games? These whiners will point to the Braves, Yankees, and Dodgers, but conveniently forget the Astros because it does not fit their narrative. But the Braves and Dodgers do not really fit their narrative either. The Yankees maybe do. But the Yankees have seen enough playoff collapses that they don’t get that benefit of the doubt.
The Braves scored 9 runs in the first 2 games, the Dodgers scored 8. Does that sound like two teams whose bats went cold because of how long they had to sit? No. Both teams scored runs in their series. The Braves scored 13 runs across 4 games, and the Dodgers 12. Not great, but averaging over 4 runs a game isn’t cold bats. Both teams’ real issue was pitching.
The Braves had every advantage when it came to pitching in this series. While it makes some sense that the wait could hurt bats, it could only help the pitchers. Extra rest for their arms, and it let them set up their rotation exactly how they wanted. The Braves could send their Ace, Max Fried to the mound in game 1. Meanwhile, the Phillies had to use Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola in the Wild Card round. So their only option in game 1 was Ranger Suarez. And then Fried got lit up.
Don’t tell me that is because the Phillies’ bats were hot, because they were not. The Phillies besides Harper did not hit well in the Wild Card series. Rhys Hoskins, Kyle Schwarber, and JT Realmuto came into the series ice-cold. The Phillies only scored in 3 of 18 innings against the Cardinals. But they hit against Fried. Fried had his worst start of the year. He was apparently still dealing with an illness that had been plaguing him since his last start. But again, if anything the bye should have helped him. Extra time to get healthy.
And then they were able to have Kyle Wright, on full rest, go up against Zack Wheeler on 4-day rest. It gave time for Spencer Strider to get healthy. They made the choice to throw him out there in game 3. And the Phillies lit him up too.
If the series started earlier what would have changed? Fried would still be sick, perhaps sicker. Strider would still be hurt. Maybe he wouldn’t have been able to pitch at all. Which actually may have helped them. But that’s not the bye’s fault. That is Brian Snitker’s fault for making a desperate decision and pitching an injured rookie on the road in his first-ever playoff start.
The Dodgers had the same advantage. They could line their pitchers exactly the way they wanted to. They started with Julio Urias, Clayton Kershaw, and Tony Gonsolin. Their problem was none of them got past the 5th inning, and all 3 ended with an ERA over 5. They had their best 3 pitchers going, and none of them looked like Aces. Meanwhile, the Padres had to pitch Mike Clevinger in game 1. Joe Musgrove didn’t pitch for them until game 4.
Underdog teams winning is nothing new to Baseball. The Braves were that underdog last year. Every team they beat on their path to winning the World Series had a better record than them, much better in some cases. And you did not hear them complaining about how unfair the playoffs are to great teams then. Underdogs have been live in the playoffs for a long time. 19 of the last 40 Divisional Series have been won by the underdog. We here in Philly saw our 102-win Phillies lose to a Cardinals team with 12 fewer wins. And while that sucked, the idea that there is parity in these playoffs and anything can happen is what makes the MLB Playoffs great.
There are no regular-season champions. This is not the Premier League. Winning in the regular season gives you advantages, but does not guarantee you a ring. Those advantages grew this year with the bye. It gets you an extra home game in the series. You get to set the tone for the series in your home ballpark, and as long as you don’t completely blow it, you should get to end it there as well.
The problem is the Braves, Yankees, and Dodgers all ceded home field. They let the other team win in their own ballpark. What separates the Astros, Phillies, and Padres from the Braves, Dodgers, and Mariners? The first 3 didn’t lose any home games. And if the Yankees lose later today, they will be in the same club as the Braves, Dodgers, and Mariners. If these losing teams took care of their business at home, they would all still be playing.
So stop complaining about the new format. It is not why the Dodgers or the Braves lost. The Dodgers are perennial chokers, and the Braves seemed lost in Citizen’s Bank Park. If you want to say the Divisional Series should be 7 games, fine. But I really doubt that would have helped the Dodgers or the Braves who both lost in 4. Still, that is an idea I can get on board with because it means more playoff baseball.
But if you are complaining, and searching for excuses because the team you wanted to win lost. Please just shut up. Your team didn’t get screwed by the new rules. Your team lost because they got outplayed. Have fun watching the Phillies and Padres while you use your regular-season champion t-shirts to wipe away your tears.